MANAGEMENT: A Peculiar Sort of Joe

The assembly-line worker, as Charlie Chaplin played him in Modern Times, turned screws with both hands and tightened bolts until he could hardly tell himself from a machine. In General Motors Corp.'s huge, sprawling plants, nobody works that hard. But many a G.M. employee, like mass-production workers everywhere, has long felt that his identity is lost in the vast impersonality of the machines.

Nobody was more aware of this than Harry Coen, G.M.'s vice president for employee relations. He knew the feeling; he had been a mass-production worker himself. He also knew it because the thousands of workers' suggestions dropped into...

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